The Presidential Candidates on Africa’s Growing Population
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The Presidential Candidates on Africa’s Growing Population

July 30, 2019 11:52 am (EST)

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CFR invited the presidential candidates challenging President Trump in the 2020 election to articulate their positions on twelve critical foreign policy issues. Candidates’ answers are posted exactly as they are received. View all questions here.


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By 2050, Africa will account for 25 percent of the world’s population according to projections by the United Nations. What are the implications of this demographic change for the United States, and how should we adjust our policies to anticipate them?

Joe Biden

Joe Biden Former vice president of the United States

Helping Africa capitalize on the opportunities and manage the challenges of a burgeoning population is in our shared interest. Africa will have the most youthful population and workforce at a time when other countries will face aging populations and shrinking labor pools. This provides opportunities for American businesses to access new markets and consumers, including in Africa’s growing cities. Africa enjoys some of the fastest growing economies, but that growth needs to be inclusive and sustainable.

The United States should work with African partners today to:

● Prioritize economic growth by strengthening trading relationships and boosting Foreign Commercial Service posts to help drive economic ties and jobs - both American and African.

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● Empower African women because we know that educated and empowered women are key to development, from economic growth to health.

● Start an urbanization initiative, including partnerships with U.S. cities, to help African cities plan for their growth in terms of critical sectors like energy access, climate change adaptation, transportation, and water management.

● Demonstrate the American model of democracy and economic development. The United States cannot afford to miss this moment to engage with African youth and to offer them a window into the American model of democracy.

Read all of Joe Biden’s responses.


Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg Former mayor of New York City Withdrawn

A stable and prosperous world depends on a stable and prosperous Africa. I believe that the U.S. must do much more to secure the future of a continent that is home to 1.3 billion people and some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and with which Americans share deep and complex bonds of history, culture, and common ancestry. Through my foundation, I’ve championed the promise and development of Africa. I have supported job training, public health, women’s empowerment, and development across the continent. I have also fought to protect Africa’s future by highlighting the profoundly disruptive impact of climate change. As president, I would be a true partner with African nations on the most pressing challenges: climate, security, migration, and economic growth. 

Read all of Michael Bloomberg’s responses.

Cory Booker

Cory Booker Senator, New JerseyWithdrawn

As the Ranking Member of the Africa Subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have had a chance to see first hand the U.S.-Africa relationship’s importance to our future. Africa is the epicenter of the youth bulge - its population is projected to double by 2050, and already, almost 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30. The U.S. has an interest in a stable, prosperous Africa that is able to meet its governance goals with an economic environment that attracts U.S. companies and creates the good jobs that are needed for the millions of young Africans who will enter the workforce every year. We need to allocate more resources at the State Department and USAID to focus on Africa and develop and execute strategies to reduce poverty, improve quality of life, and strengthen democratic institutions.

Read all of Cory Booker’s responses.

Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock Governor of Montana Withdrawn

Many African nations are still embroiled in poverty, sectarian violence, and the inability to provide basic services to its citizens. Africa is also the continent with the largest youth population on the planet. The U.S. must provide African nations with the tools they need to meet this impending demographic challenge. The U.S. should work to foster entrepreneurship programs and encourage the growth of locally-owned and operated businesses to ensure that there will be employment opportunities available come 2050. Additionally, the U.S. should encourage governments across the continent to make the necessary reforms in sectors such as governance and the rule of law, so that their countries can be stable places for foreign direct investment and to increase the economic opportunities of a quarter of the world’s future population.

Read all of Steve Bullock’s responses.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg Former mayor of South Bend, Indiana Withdrawn

Africa is not a country, it is a diverse and multifaceted continent of states with rich and proud histories, great successes, and significant and varied challenges.  On that continent, the winds of change are sweeping aside old regimes and certitudes. In Algeria, a new generation has risen up against a sclerotic government. In Sudan, women have led a revolt against a criminal one. And in Ethiopia, we have seen what can look like when hope triumphs over hostility.

By 2025, nearly one-fifth of the world’s population will live in the nations of a rising Africa--60 percent of whose people are now under the age of 25. Our priorities should include cooperation on helping our African partners manage that population growth: accountable governance, climate change mitigation and conflict prevention. 

We must also prioritize building shared prosperity that can assist new generations in having a viable and productive future.  That continent now boasts some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, which have lifted millions out of poverty and into the global marketplace.  Sub-Saharan Africa represents one of the biggest opportunities for new markets for US goods and investment. And as African peoples demand greater accountability and transparency from their leaders, the United States must stand ready to put our values into action, to promote empowerment alongside economic engagement.  

Read all of Pete Buttigieg’s responses.

Julian Castro

Julian Castro Former secretary of housing and urban developmentWithdrawn

Given the rapid growth in many countries on the African continent, African governments, and their people have a unique opportunity to address the most pressing challenges of the 21st century such as climate change and migration. For the United States, this means we must begin a long overdue shift in putting greater emphasis in engaging with our partners on the African continent as part of our foreign policy. Expanding American engagement, including supporting strong multilateral and national institutions and deepening trade, migration, and cultural ties, is in our national security interest and reflects our nation’s values.

As president, I will prioritize relations with African governments looking to create closer partnerships with the United States, particularly with influential countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa. State visits by African leaders to Washington will be treated with as much fanfare and equal protocol as those of European heads of state, while expertise in African languages, history, and politics will be as valued as expertise in Russian or Arabic for our diplomats. I will defend and expand successful initiatives such as President Bush’s President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and President Obama’s Power Africa programs while deepening American engagement with the diverse people and nations throughout the African continent. We must also repair the damage caused by President Trump’s disrespect towards African nations. His comments are not only ignorant, they are a lasting setback to the United States’ global influence.

Read all of Julian Castro’s responses.

John Delaney

John Delaney Former representative, MarylandWithdrawn

Africa’s expected population boom will bring new challenges and opportunities to the continent. With half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa expected to be under 21 years old by 2035, there will be a need to create educational and job opportunities for the young population. If jobs are not created, a rise in unemployment could lead to social and political instability and increase the chance of unrest.

The United States can become a key partner in supporting economic growth in Africa by expanding trade agreements (such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act) and increasing U.S. foreign direct investment to promote manufacturing, infrastructure, and innovation of local industry. U.S. economic investment is critical as China is heavily investing in the continent through its Belt and Road Initiative, often through predatory behavior. The U.S. can adjust policies to (1) offer the U.S. as an alternative option (as opposed to China) for countries looking for foreign investment to create jobs, (2) support democratic initiatives and good governance policies, including election monitoring in support of free and fair elections, improving revenue collection, effective policymaking and implementation, and (3) be a helpful partner in providing resources to support economic growth that is less dependent on fossil fuels. With the stakes as high as they currently are for our climate, we must anticipate the growing population’s effect on the environment. A larger population and rapidly developing economy are both common causes for negative environmental outcomes.

Read all of John Delaney’s responses.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand Senator, New York Withdrawn

We must recognize the enormous potential of the young generation growing up in the fifty-four countries in Africa. For far too long, we have ignored the opportunities, focusing only on the risks emanating from the continent. Yet with better diplomacy — one that recognizes the value of those countries, rather than insulting them as President Trump has — and with more trade, investment in rule of law, and policies to address climate change, we can foster the opportunities that this young population will have and contribute to greater global stability. China has recognized and worked to leverage these opportunities for its own benefit through the Belt and Road Initiative. America should lead, based on respect for the rule of law, and likewise compete for the hearts and minds of the people in these countries.

Read all of Kirsten Gillibrand’s responses.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris Senator, California Withdrawn

The African continent is dynamic, diverse, and full of potential, with the youngest, fastest growing population in the world. There are so many important interests at stake in Africa, from bolstering global security to fostering shared prosperity.  The United States must engage now and build strong diplomatic and economic partnerships with these nations or illiberal countries like China and Russia will fill the gaps.
Unfortunately, President Trump is damaging U.S. relationships and opportunities in this important region.  His description of African nations as “sh*thole countries” was not only deeply offensive; it was flat-out wrong. He has undermined U.S. diplomacy and undercut work to strengthen security, prevent pandemics, support democratic institutions, and increase U.S. investment. 
As president, I will focus on advancing relationships in Africa that President Trump has let languish – and I will do so in a way that is consistent with American values.  We need to stand up for democracy, human rights, and economic freedom and development.  I will reinvigorate American diplomacy throughout the continent, support economic growth, and deepen security engagements with African partners.

Read all of Kamala Harris's responses.

Seth Moulton

Seth Moulton Representative, Massachusetts Withdrawn

As we approach 2050, the United States should work to help build the next generation of leaders in Africa by partnering with governments, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders throughout the continent. President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was a model for how to do that by sponsoring educational and professional development opportunities.

The U.S government should also work directly with entrepreneurs overseas, especially in Africa’s developing countries, to provide access to technology, private sector relationships, and training that can help their businesses grow. This is particularly important for the growing number of women leaders in the region.

Lastly, while extreme poverty has fallen worldwide, too many Africans still struggle to get by on less than $2 a day—conditions that are unlivable and drive people to extremism. So as these populations continue to grow, we must also help these countries grow their middle classes.

Read all of Seth Moulton’s responses.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke Former representative, TexasWithdrawn

The implications of population growth in Africa and elsewhere will be shaped by the changes in climate that have already begun. These changes will have a profound impact on the continent. From rising sea levels, to the expansion of deserts like the Sahara, climate change is altering where and how populations can safely live. Africa’s young, growing population will be forced to confront the effects of climate change. When population centers become uninhabitable, we will witness significant migration and perhaps the biggest set of refugee crises the world has ever seen. Moreover, the wealth in these countries will become more limited and a host of other issues, including violent fights for resources, may arise. Population growth will only exacerbate these conflicts. We have already seen the consequences of violence and instability abroad impacting our southern border, and we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to mitigate future crises. As President, I will mobilize $5 trillion to combat climate change by investing in innovation, our infrastructure, and our communities. I will also take bold steps to cut pollution and reach the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. And working with the international community, I will re-enter the Paris Agreement and lead the negotiations for an even more ambitious global plan for 2030 and beyond.

Read all of Beto O'Rourke responses.

Deval Patrick

Deval Patrick Former governor, Massachusetts Withdrawn

Population growth is not the only reason why the United States should refresh our policies in and relationships with African nations.  As someone who has lived and worked in Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa in various capacities over many years, the nations of Africa have always struck me as among the most fertile, yet under-appreciated environments for economic, social, educational and security relationships with the United States in the world today.  The Patrick Administration will develop these relationships into the robust opportunities for sharing prosperity and spreading justice they should have been all along.

We must start now to build strong commercial partnerships with Africa’s emerging economies.  My administration, working with allies, will lead development investments in infrastructure, education, healthcare and governance.  We will also strengthen African countries’ access to global markets through regional trade agreements in the spirit of partnership, and expand efforts to counterbalance China’s growing economic and political influence across the continent.  Terrorist activity in African hot spots, such as northern Nigeria, must be checked.  I will also leverage our influence in international institutions to reflect the realities of Africa’s growth, such as by promoting more inclusive decision-making in the United Nations and international financial institutions.

Read all of Deval Patrick’s responses.

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan Representative, Ohio Withdrawn

The United States has historically not paid nearly enough attention to Africa. It is time for this to change, for the benefit of both Africans and Americans. African population growth presents an incredible opportunity for America as we seek new markets abroad for American products. I believe that America needs to rebuild its manufacturing sector and needs to do so in a way that creates the technology and implements for the production of green energy. Africa is going to need incredible investments in infrastructure, water, sewer, power, pipelines, roads, bridges, trains and consumer products. There is no reason that America can’t be helping Africa by supplying those badly needed resources.

We also need to understand geopolitically, that if the United States doesn’t step in to invest and work with the Africans in the crucial years ahead, the Chinese will, and, in fact, already are. But, with their heavy-handedness and the fact that their economic investments don’t often bring returns for many Africans, the United States has a particular moment at hand to make inroads on the continent.

Read all of Tim Ryan’s responses.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Senator, Vermont Withdrawn

America must create room for Africa to play a greater role in setting the global agenda or else we will repeat the colonialist/imperialist history of the 19th and 20th century that suppressed African opinions and impoverished Africa. Our global institutions, like the IMF, World Bank and UN Security Council (which we lead) must reflect the changing global demographics and add Africa to leadership roles. For too long we have been comfortable with Africa taking a back seat in setting the global agenda and being responsible for world peace. The US is about 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes about 25% of the world’s resources to live the way that it does. We must invest in making Africa more efficient than the rest of the world in order to avoid resources wars, which are already happening. Supporting the UN sustainable development goals is a critical part of this. We can explore tax breaks to these sort of Sustainable Development Goal investors who are investing in making the world more efficient. 

Read all of Bernie Sanders’s responses.

Joe Sestak

Joe Sestak Former representative, PennsylvaniaWithdrawn

Not only will Africa account for 25 percent of the world’s population, but with the world’s fastest-growing middle class, by 2050 Africa will be much more of an economic powerhouse. With most of the continent still just decades removed from colonialism, and many countries still in the grip of post-colonial dictatorships and civil wars, firmly establishing democracy across Africa is still a major challenge. We must not turn our backs on civilian populations at risk of oppression by corrupt and violent forces, as we did in Rwanda and Darfur. We should also prioritize our diplomatic engagement with African governments, because for too long we have ignored them, and primarily engaged with African countries through our military (across Africa military attaches and personnel in embassies outnumber those in our diplomatic corps). And because engagement is the best way to identify and work with centers of excellence and enhance our relationships, our efforts in Africa are severely lacking due to the dearth of economic, development, and diplomatic personnel. Africa will be a powerhouse one day soon, and Africans will remember who was there for them. We must double down on meeting the continent’s needs – from addressing poverty and infrastructure to developmental aid and education – or we risk losing influence in Africa to China and other countries that are not aligned with our values. 

Critically, we must also offer much more economic, financial and diplomatic support to the developing economies of Africa, and incentivize US companies to get engaged in fair, just ways because in our absence China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” is building roads and bridges and other infrastructure, buying up African farmland, and settling Chinese workers across the continent. The result is almost a “neo-colonial” relationship as nations accept loans and investment from China, in exchange for their own sovereignty — such as when Djibouti gave China its first overseas naval base because Chinese debt has enslaved its economy and government budget. We cannot allow China to build an illiberal world order by turning African countries, and others elsewhere in the developing world, into vassal states.   

We also must recognize that Africa is a region ripe for increased violence and strife as the climate changes, and that African advancement also threatens to further drive climate change. Take note, for instance, that only 8% of the tropics has air conditioning right now — but a majority soon will in the decades to come. That is why I strongly support ratifying the Kigali Agreement, which regulates the use of the potent greenhouse gases known as HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons). We must move the world toward greater energy efficiency. If African countries and other tropical countries were to broadly adopt air conditioning without using the most energy efficient types (which use one third of the energy of the average air conditioning unit), it would spell more disaster for the climate; but if it did adopt with our leadership the most efficient of today’s standards, it would be equivalent to reforesting two-thirds of the Amazon.

Read all of Joe Sestak’s responses.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren Senator, Massachusetts Withdrawn

Africa is made up of diverse countries with differing objectives and needs, and it makes little sense to think of them with a singular policy. My administration will treat the region as a priority rather than an afterthought. Achieving this requires fresh, innovative diplomacy that prioritizes engagement with civil societies as much as with governments. We should seize opportunities to promote transparent governance and more equitable, inclusive growth that supports a vibrant middle class -- including through efforts to tackle wealth concentration, kleptocracy, and corruption. This also means collaborating with regional and multilateral institutions that promote African ownership of growth and governance issues.

Rapid population growth in parts of Africa has the potential to exacerbate environmental and social stressors and has been seen to produce mass youth unemployment, impacting security and regional economies beyond the continent. Re-energized U.S. engagement can encourage alternative outcomes, where population increases instead usher in a period of strong, broad-based economic growth, open civic spaces, and propel nations toward better governance.

Read all of Elizabeth Warren’s responses.

Bill Weld

Bill Weld Former governor, MassachusettsWithdrawn

We should be thrilled that a continent that was historically underdeveloped and a playground for outside powers is finally growing in wealth as well as population and able to make its voice heard on the world stage. And we should be forging relationships with African countries to support democracy, the rule of law, and prosperity. In some countries, the Catholic Church could be helpful to our efforts.

Right now we are getting our brains beat in by China in courting African nations, because we simply don’t make it a high enough priority. In my Administration, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs would have my ear.

On security matters, we and our allies need to continue to help Africa fight terrorists. Al Qaeda offshoots pose a threat to the entire continent, not just the sub-Sahara.

Read all of Bill Weld’s responses.

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson AuthorWithdrawn

We are wrong to ignore Africa because it is the continent with the fastest growing population. In a generation, Nigeria may have a larger population than the US. While some African countries manage their economies well, others have poor economies and risk becoming failed states. Failing states can become grounds for terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, for epidemics as was seen with the Ebola virus in Eastern Congo or sources of refugees seeking political asylum. Ignoring Africa means ignoring real risks to our security.

At the same time, a growing Africa also means opportunities we should not ignore. Angola has a president who is reversing decades of corruption. Algeria and Sudan are seeking peaceful transitions or power, and South Africa is struggling to re-establish economic growth and build opportunity for its people. In each case the United States could have been involved in these positive developments but was not.

Read all of Marianne Williamson’s responses.

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang Entrepreneur Withdrawn

Africa’s youth population is driving the adoption of new technologies at awesome speeds. Cell phones are now prevalent on a continent where wired phones never took hold. Adopting renewable energy now will allow Africa to avoid the shortfalls that come from having a centralized grid.

The United States should serve as a partner to the African nations. We should be driven by the motto “African solutions for African problems.” We should facilitate American entrepreneurs to partner with African entrepreneurs in technology - especially energy, agriculture, civil society, and beyond. We need to ensure that the African nations view the United States as an ally and model. We can also learn a lot from the continent, as they’re adopting technologies that aren’t in widespread use in the US and we can see their impact and push to adopt the ones that have the largest benefits.

We also must recognize that China is heavily investing in African infrastructure and technology, oftentimes exploiting natural resources with no tangible benefit for the local communities. We need to outcompete China in technological advancement, economic growth, and in the establishment of sustainable social and environmental practices. We need to restructure our trade agreements to offer attractive investment opportunity and to expand markets: by going beyond manufacturing and goods to include services, intellectual property, fair labor practices, and sustainable environment standards.

Read all of Andrew Yang’s responses.


This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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